I have been to the Grand Canyon many times, but besides a couple trips up/down Bright Angel, I really have not hiked there all that much. Since hiking is my favorite hobby, and the Grand Canyon is my favorite National Park in the US… this was kind of weird. This year I decided to fix this problem. So, I spent some time doing a few South Rim day hikes. It was a great experience, but also a hard reminder of the fact that Canyon hiking is NO JOKE. If you are up for a challenge though (and you are prepared for safety reasons!), then these two hikes are for you.
TL;DR If you are prepared for some hard (and sometimes scary) hikes, South Rim day hikes are a must; these are mind-blowingly beautiful. Hermit’s Rest to Dripping Springs is more challenging in terms of getting there and has some dangerously narrow sections. Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa is just straight up 3,500 ft of elevation gain in <3 miles, so prepare to sweat. Of course, always remember to be safe and responsible on the trail!
- 1 Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa
- 2 Hermit’s Rest to Dripping Springs (?)
- 3 Stay Safe While Exploring South Rim Day Hikes
- 4 Want to Explore More of Arizona?
Grandview Trail to Horseshoe Mesa
I had no idea what I was getting into when I left for this South Rim day hike. This was because I didn’t pay enough attention to the elevation loss/gain on this relatively short trek. Grandview trail to Horseshoe Mesa is about 3 miles down to the mesa, and then 3 miles back up and about 2,500 ft (one of my guidebooks said 3,500 ft). Much of this elevation gain is towards the final fourth of the journey. That basically means that by the time you are at your most tired, you will be doing your hardest climb.
That caveat aside, this is a beautiful expedition (kind of goes without saying in the Canyon, but I will say it anyway). As long as you are prepared and don’t attempt this hike in the winter, I would suggest this challenge any day. That’s because this is a lesser visited trail. So, it gives you the space and time to really enjoy the sweeping views of the Grand Canyon. This is also a great tour of the beautiful layers of the Canyon, and will give you a feel for the ecosystem diversity as you move downwards.
When you head out from the trailhead for this South Rim day hike, you will get an early dose of how steep this trail will be. You will immediately find yourself twisting downwards, through the massive stone formations at the lip of the Canyon on a narrow trail. This progress downwards will continue along the cliffside. You will hike through a juniper forest that deserves an award for growing in these steep and extreme conditions.
Eventually, you will cross over a stone pass and begin following a massive jut of the canyon out towards the mesa. This is where the trail will become even more steep, and the trail itself will become a cobbled surface for much of this section. The cobbles are lovely, but they mark a major challenge on the way up (and down for that matter).
Finally, after a little scramble through a short section of trail that gets pretty rough, you will find yourself on the easiest section of the hike. This takes on a much slower ascent along the cliff and brings your down into the arid shift from the juniper forest to the desert conditions that can be found on the mesa itself. You will pass some signs cautioning you about some old radioactive mines, and pointing you on towards the mesa.
My turn around point was at the historic building on the mesa (and the backcountry toilets, the likes of which I had never seen before). The way back up was extremely strenuous.
I would not suggest this hike for any but the very physically prepared.
Need to Know Information
Hike Length: 6 miles (round trip, out and back trail)
Difficulty Level: Hard (experienced, strong hikers only)
Elevation Gain: 2,500+ ft
Facilities: Yes, at the trailhead and at Horseshoe Mesa
Season: NOT the winter, fall and spring recommended (when there is no snow and ice); in the summer begin very early to avoid dangerous heat.
When entering the Grand Canyon National Park from the west, drive north on the 64 and follow the junction to the right to stay on the 64 before reaching Grand Canyon Village. Grandview Point will have sufficient signage for you to find the right turn off for the trailhead. If coming from the east, simply stay on the 64 till you see the signs- if you hit Kaibab or Grand Canyon Village, you have gone too far.
This hike is extremely steep (despite my pictures making it look otherwise). It is completely unsafe in the winter unless you have some serious crampons, and I wouldn’t suggest it for any but the most experienced hikers during that time.
Also, I wouldn’t suggest this for the summer unless you leave early enough to avoid the hottest part of the day. Otherwise, you will really be stressed on the way up when you combine heat with the strain of that elevation gain.
Hermit’s Rest to Dripping Springs (?)
Hermit’s Rest to Dripping Springs (and back) was my #1 South Rim day hike pick because looking at information about this trail made it look like a great escape from the crowds and I am a huge sucker for water sources. The only problem turned out to be… that I couldn’t finish the hike. I made it about 2 miles down (with about a mile to go before making it to the spring), before deciding to turn around. This was a very hard decision to make, but in retrospect it was the right thing to do.
I will explore why I turned around below, but if you are considering this trail, I’d still recommend it. The experience I had, without even getting to the springs, was highly enjoyable. I loved the challenge of the canyon ascent/descent and this trail provides the opportunity to walk through some Supai Group valleys with little gatherings of trees. There’s no lack of beautiful views on this South Rim day hike romp, and it is a little less killer on your body than the Grandview hike.
Why I Failed to Finish This Hike
What immediately got me about this trail, in terms of stopping me, was the narrowness of the trail along some sections of Redwall cliff. I do have a bit of a fear of heights, particularly when I feel like a single misstep could result in a deadly tumble. Furthermore, I was hiking on my own, and tackling my fears while being solo just didn’t seem smart.
I also made the mistake of starting my hike a little too late in the day. This meant that I was hiking down during the coolest park of my day, and would have to hike back up the canyon during the hottest time of the day. If I had gone any further, I would have just been putting myself into more and more of a difficult position. I also ended up running out of water right when I returned to the trailhead, meaning that it was very good I turned around when I did.
You will start off this South Rim day hike by descending from west of Hermit’s Rest. The first part of the trail has a characteristic, light colored soil that supports a healthy spread of junipers and other cliffside plant-life. The trail itself will give hikers a great view of all the beautiful biodiversity as it weaves between boulders and begins easing you into the canyon itself.
As you continue to descend, the trail will become more steep, and you will need to navigate both packed soil and cobblestone surfaces. The steepest sections of your descent will be within sight of the valley that you will eventually pass through, so that will give you a good sense for how much further you need to go.
Hiking in the Canyon
Eventually, the trail will give you a bit of a break when you reach the valley. You will have the chance to walk on some more level ground at this point, and there are more trees here as well, so you can catch some shade here on the way down or up for a nice snack break. In terms of figuring where you are along the journey, you will be passing two different trail junctions- the first is Waldron Trail. You will stay on Hermits Rest Trail. Then Hermits Rest will split again, this time with Boucher Trail, and you will take Boucher.
It’s at this point that you will begin hiking along the Redwall Cliff. This is where I got scared, my friends. The trail here is very narrow and it winds its way along a sheer drop off. It goes without saying that I can’t tell you what the trail is like beyond this point, but if you have more water than I did, and aren’t as scared of the heights, you will continue on along the cliffside. Eventually, you will come to one last trail junction (for the way down) and you will follow the trail for Dripping Springs.
In order to get home, you will come back the way that you came. Account for the fact that you will be heading up on the way home!
Need to Know Information
Hike Length: 6.8 miles
Difficulty Level: Moderate (with some scary narrow and steep sections)
Elevation Gain: 2,500 ft
Facilities: Yes, at the trailhead
Season: Fall and spring suggested (when there isn’t ice on the trail)
Getting to this South Rim day hike is a bit more difficult than Grandview. Mostly because for most of the year, you will need to take a bus to get to the trailhead. So, once you are in Grand Canyon NP, make your way to the main village, and from there head towards the Bright Angel Trailhead. Normally, you can take the Blue Line to the Hermit’s Rest Route Transfer. If the blue route is closed, you can park nearby and walk or bike to the transfer. In either case, when you get to the transfer area, head to the station on the other side of the barriers and take the Red Line all the way to the end.
At this point, you will be able to visit Hermits Rest, enjoy some snacks, water, and souvenirs and use the restroom. Continue down the road that passes between Hermits Rest and the bathrooms towards a dirt parking lot and the trailhead. A well signed map will be apparent when you reach the trailhead.
Stay Safe While Exploring South Rim Day Hikes
(1) Always take responsibility for yourself
Remember, it is up to you to keep yourself safe. This guide does not encourage hiking unprepared (physically, mentally, equipment, etc.). Only go if it is safe to do so, and know that you are responsible for your safety.
(2) Be physically prepared- be in shape
All trails in the Grand Canyon are challenging; this is a very extreme landscape and you should not take the theme park-like atmosphere of the visitor center to mean that these trails aren’t hard and sometimes dangerous. Only go on these hikes if you are in shape enough to do them and in good health.
(3) Bring the right equipment
Wear hiking shoes (and crampons in the winter), and be sure to pack sufficient water and food for your journey. Bring safety equipment, and hiking poles for your adventures.
(4) Always let someone know where you are going
Let a friend or family member know what trail you will be doing and when you expect to be home. Check in with them when you return.
(5) Check the weather!
In the winter, the upper trails are dangerous with ice. And throughout the year, you should watch how hot it is getting in the Canyon. It may be cold on the rim but very hot inside. Thunderstorms and monsoons are also very dangerous in AZ, so avoid hiking in inclement weather.
Want to Explore More of Arizona?
We are lifelong locals of Arizona! Find more of our guides to hiking and exploring the state here in our Guide to Arizona.
For more guides to Arizona’s many national parks, take a peek at our AZ National Parks Guide list.
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